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An Interesting Turn of Phrase

Did Iraq's ambassador to the United Nations let something slip about Saddam's condition on "Meet the Press" yesterday?

1:10 PM, Mar 31, 2003 • By JONATHAN V. LAST
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LOST IN THE CRIES of "Vietnam" and "quagmire" yesterday was this short but very interesting exchange between Tim Russert and Mohammed Al-Douri, the Iraqi ambassador to the United Nations, on "Meet the Press":

RUSSERT: Mr. Ambassador, is Saddam Hussein dead or alive?

AL-DOURI: We start with that. I am here. I am in New York. I think that he is alive, of course, because we saw him several times on the TV.

RUSSERT: But on the TV, it could be edited or outdated footage. Why doesn't he appear holding a daily newspaper so people know for certain he is alive?

AL-DOURI: You know, anyway I think he is alive, but the question is not there because Iraq is Iraq and Saddam Hussein is the president of Iraq. Now we have to talk about the war against Iraq, against the people of Iraq, not against one person.

RUSSERT: But were Saddam Hussein or his sons injured?

AL-DOURI: I told you it is not a question of one person or two persons. . . .

What's going on here? For one thing, Al-Douri clearly hasn't spoken with either Saddam, Qusay, or Uday Hussein since the war started on March 19. But more interestingly, he remains noncommittal on whether or not Saddam is still alive. Notice how Al-Douri (who's a lawyer) lawyers his way around the question: He thinks Saddam is alive. His evidence: the handful of undated, videotaped Saddam speeches that have been released.

It's hard to think of a reason Al-Douri would be so circumspect. As a Baath party higher-up, it would seem to be in his best interest to simply assert that Saddam is alive and well no matter what.

If Al-Douri really doesn't know anything--which is entirely possible--his safest bet would be to stick with his patron, since he doesn't have any future in a post-war Iraq. If he knows that Saddam is alive, he can only help the Iraqi dictator by showing the world that he has escaped the clutches of America yet again. And if he knows that Saddam is dead, he should try to prolong the fiction of him being alive for as long as possible, knowing that if word got out, the Iraqi resistance might collapse. And who cares if we find out later that he was lying? He's not worried about maintaining credibility with Russert or the American audience.

There is one other scenario worth considering: Al-Douri's non-answer would make sense if he did know that Saddam was, for one reason or another, out of the picture, and that one of his sons was running the show. In that case, Al-Douri wouldn't want to let slip that Saddam was not in control but, at the same time, wouldn't want to appear disloyal to the new Hussein by insisting that the old tyrant was still calling the shots. It's a little thin, but it's interesting nonetheless.

Jonathan V. Last is online editor of The Weekly Standard.